The First Comic Book Crossover

The crossover story has become an ubiquitous part of the lore of comic books, so much so that it’s entirely unremarkable in these days when every publisher speaks about their “universe” or “multiverse” or “omniverse” of characters. But there was a point where such encounters between heroes was rare, even unheard of. So what was the first crossover between super heroes? Well, you might think that it was the formation of the Justice Society of America in ALL-STAR COMICS, or the Earth-shattering battle between the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner in MARVEL MYSTERY COMICS, both in 1940. But in fact, two other heroes beat these and everybody else to the punch (and were assisted in their efforts by two other characters with regular series who were not actually super heroes.) This was the Shield and the Wizard.

The Shield made his debut in PEP COMICS #1 and was the first patriotic super hero in the field, predating Captain America and Wonder Woman by several years. He was cut in the mold of Superman in that he was a physical powerhouse and completely bulletproof, at least in his earliest stories. With the ventual popularity of Captain America, the Shield eventually lost his super-powers and became a much more Captain America-like figure, as we talked about here.

The Shield was an actual G-Man who worked as a deputized FBI agent and did the work of defending his government. He was the creation of writer Harry Shorten and artist Irv Novick. Novick would work in the field well into the 1980s and is likely best remembered today for his many Batman stories. Working on the Shield was his big break into the comics field.

“The Mosconian Menace” as the Grand Comics Database titles this story (it had no actual story title on any of its chapters) kicks off with a bang in the opening of the Shield story in PEP COMICS #4. Joe Higgins, the Shield, is in Washington DC on business when he intercepts a gang of spies who have tried to bomb the airport. Their target, as it turns out, was the Wizard, whose super-brain allowed him to escape injury in the explosion of their bomb. By page two, the two super-beings have met, with the Wizard being able to use remote viewing to clue the Shield in on the location of the secret base of the Mosconian spies who were responsible for the attack. It’s on a secret island near Pearl Harbor, so Higgins heads that way directly.

What follows is a dozen pages of carnage as the Shield uses his Superman-like powers to wage war against the Mosconian invaders and foil their attempt to set off the Luana volcano and thus destroy the American naval fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor. At one point, the Shield is apparently trapped when he falls into the volcano. But just then, who should happen by but Cadet Keith Kornell, known as the West Pointer, and the star of a back-up strip running in TOP NOTCH COMICS. Spying the Shield’s situation, Kornell has himself lowered down on a rope to come to the crusader’s rescue.

Of course, the Shield didn’t really need Kornell’s help. He was momentarily stunned, but having gathered his wits, he’s able to leap out of the volcano with Kornell on his back. Later, Joe Higgins calls his chief at the bureau to report that the Moskonian threat has been neutralized. But he’s speaking too quickly, as a blurb for the next issue as well as TOP NOTCH COMICS is quick to tell the audience.

And sure enough, some forty pages into the issue, the Moskonians strike again, this time within the short back-up story featuring the Midshipman, Lee Sampson. As Lee is dilly-dallying in a boat borrowed from the navy, he’s in position to see a strange craft plummet into the ocean. As it does so, the sailors on another nearby boat pour a massive amount of chlorine into the waters. Curious, Lee dives overboard, and sees a figure emerging from within the stricken vessel.

As with the Shield earlier, Sampson is surprised to find that the would-be target of the aggressors is the Wizard! The quasi-sorcerer warns Lee about the Mosconians’ plans before taking off again, The Mosconians are not done with the Midshipman, however, and attempt to murder him for the rest of the six pages. As with the Shield, Lee is able to take them on and wreck their ambitions. But we know we’re going to see them again in the pages of TOP NOTCH COMICS later on that same month.

The Wizard, often billed as “The Man With The Super-Brain” made his debut in TOP NOTCH COMICS #1. He started out as yet another comic book magician in the mold of the popular Mandrake, but he took to adopting a domino mask and steering more into the realms of the super-heroic, eventually trading his tie-and-tails for a genuine costume. In the style of the period, he was secretly Blaine Whitney, bored millionaire playboy–millionaire playboys were easy to come by in the comic books of the 1940s. But secretly he worked with his contact, his brother Grover in Naval Intelligence, to employ his vast mental powers to protect our nation. He was the creation of Will Harr and Edd Ashe. TOP NOTCH COMICS #5 continued the storyline that had begun in PEP COMICS #4, albeit without seeming like much of a continuation at all.

Storytelling in the Golden Age was a much less precise field than it is in comics today. Thus it is that despite supposedly continuing from the stories we’ve already looked at in PEP COMICS, the Wizard adventure in this issue opens up clean, with the Wizard surviving another assassination attempt by the Mosconians. He learns that Grover has been taken prisoner and that his attackers intend to conquer the United States. Realizing that he needs help to curtail the enemy’s activity and bereft of his Naval Intelligence contact, the Wizard makes his way to FBI headquarters.

There, he meets the Shield, seemingly for the first time. (There’s a good argument to be made that this Wizard story was meant to come before the opening Shield adventure, but this was the order in which they saw print.) The Shield offers to deal with the threat locally while the Wizard heads out to intercept the enemy in Annapolis at West Point.

Along the way, the Wizard spots a Mosconian ship and dives his plane into the waters, transitioning it into its submarine mode. This is unbeknownst to a bystander, Lee Sampson, the Midshipman, who is idling nearby as we saw in his story in PEP COMICS #4. As in that tale, the Mosconians dump chlorine into the waters in an attempt to kill the Wizard but fail in their efforts–although here, Sampson is responsible for the Wizard’s rescue.

Leaving the Midshipman to deal with the local threat, the Wizard hotfoots it to West Point, where the Mosconians are planning to bomb the parade march of the Academy students. As they begin their bombing run, Cadet Keith Kornell, the West Pointer, notices the incoming attack and moves to protect his fellow Cadets. The Wizard arrives shortly thereafter and mops up the Mosconian planes with his own wonder ship, then alights and is introduced to Kornell by the grateful base commander

.

But Grover is still a prisoner of the Mosconians and still in danger,. Honing in on his location, the Wizard annihilates the place and succeeds in rescuing Grover. So now the Mosconian threat is well and truly broken, yes? Wrong! A caption in the final panel directs readers back to the May PEP COMICS for a continuation featuring the Shield and the Midshipman!

But before we get to that, way in the back of TOP NOTCH COMICS #5 is that issue’s West Pointer story–and wouldn’t you know it? It ties into this epic saga as well! It was written by Will Harr and drawn by Elmer Wexler, and it opens with a reenactment of the attack on West Point from the Wizard story in the issue, and reiterates the meeting between the Wizard and Keith Kornell. After the Wizard has departed, Kornell gets caught up in some additional adventurous shenanigans with the Mosconians but once again comes out on top, as we all knew he would. He’s a West Point man, after all!

The whole little mini-epic wraps up in the Shield story in PEP COMICS #5, which is again written by Harry Shorten and illustrated by Irv Novick. Novick also provided the cover art, above.

The Mosconians, furious that their attempt to destroy Pearl Harbor was thwarted, have it out for the Shield, whom their spies report is returning to the mainland. They use an electromagnet mounted to a submarine to pull the Shield’s ship off course and send it on a collision course with a volcano–the Mosconians love their volcanos. apparently. Diving into the water, the Shield is able to single-handedly disable and capture the submarine and its entire crew thanks to his super-powers.

Thereafter, the Shield arrives in California and rendezvous with the Wizard. The Man with the Super Brain lends the Shield his Strato-Plane so that he can rapidly make the trip to Washington DC and catch the remaining Mosconians by surprise. This works out pretty well, but the Mosconian spy leader has one final trick. He maneuvers the Shield onto a concealed metal plate and then electrocutes him. While this only knocks the Shield unconscious, the Mosconians seal him in a steel coffin and bury him alive.

But that’s nothing to the Shield. Like any good superman-inspired super hero of the early 1940s, he’s able to tear his way right out of all those impediments. He’s also able to intercept the Mosconian military as it rolls into Washington DC on a beeline for the White House. Having warmed up by this point, the Shield wastes no time in demolishing the enemy. So now the threat of the Mosconians is completely finished, right? Right! For the time, this three issue cross-title storyline was an epic, even if all of its gears didn’t quite mesh together perfectly. Eventually, this sort of tale would be come commonplace–and in fact, in another year or so, the Shield and the Wizard would wind up sharing the pages of SHIELD-WIZARD COMICS, which was sort of like the WORLD’S FINEST COMICS of the MLJ publishing line. They’d also both wind up with sidekicks in due course–but that’s a story for another time.

3 thoughts on “The First Comic Book Crossover

  1. Irv Novick was a fantastic Batman arist but he share dthe stage with others. To me, he will always be THE Flash artist of the Bronze Age. My first Flash comic was by him and so any after. Heck, Saviuk, and Infantino would follow but I’d yet to appreciate what made Heck great at this point, Saviuk was still a yeoman, and while I loved Infantino’s Marvel work (especially Spider-Woman), I never cottoned to this Flash run of his. I don’t know if it was DC’s production values or the inker but I even blamed his art for the title’s cancellation at the time!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Shield is more interesting to me with his superpowers. Dropping to Cap’s levels without Cap’s “indestructible” shield strips away what made the Shield the predominant hero of his publisher. I know he’s remerged several times, 2 not even that long ago, and all were short-lived. The costume needs simplifying. The stripes need to stop at the waist. The original design is ridiculous, extending to his crotch. Come on. Like a 1920’s “onesie” swimsuit over leotards. Wear some pants. Solid blue fatigue pants, like we see SWAT cops wear.

    Make the torso part a sleeveless vest, metal mesh or light armor that clicks together on the sides. Lose the horizontal white stripe that separates the blue top from the vertical stripes. Make it closer to the iconography of the US seals. 3 or 4 stars to decrease how much of a pain it is for artists. Red boots, depending on the mission, because he’s still a superhero. Too much red, and characters look like giant tomatoes. Sorry, Flash. Daredevil’s almost as bad, but he’s more “cherry”. 😉 So his neck & arms are bare. He’s “indestructible”. And white hair to show his age. No beard like a recent version. And the original mask, like it is in this article.

    The tone of the stories should be similar to Garth Ennis’s Vertigo “Unknown Soldier” and MAX “Punisher”. He shouldn’t be crazy, but I like him being independent of the government. Maybe he’s jaded, distrusting, burned by so many bad post WW2 ops done for the wrong reasons. And he’s been missing for years, again angry about what we did after 9/11.

    The opening narration for this old story is a little ominous. The Sheild was fighting to protect our government. Not the people. Even “the Nation” or “America” would’ve sounded more agreeable. “The Government” makes it sound like he’d be OK violating a law if a high enough ranking official gave the order. Steve Rogers said it well in “Daredevil: Born Again”. “I’m loyal only to the dream.”

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s